Without Russell Wilson, poor defense and 2-4 start: Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll faces toughest challenge

October 25, 2021

RENTON, Wash. – Matt Hasselbeck remembers seeing it everywhere, hearing it everywhere: seven and nine.

It was the end of the 2010 regular season, coach Pete Carroll’s first with the Seattle Seahawks and Hasselbeck’s last as a Seahawks quarterback. They had just beaten the St. Louis Rams in Week 17 to claim the NFC West title and become the first team in the Super Bowl era to win their division with a record of under 500.

To the dismay of many NFL watchers, that meant a first-round meeting with the New Orleans Saints, who had earned a wild-card offer at 11-5 after winning the Super Bowl the previous season. Talking heads complained that a 7-9 team didn’t deserve to win their division, much less host a playoff game.

What’s more, the Saints had beaten the Seahawks by two touchdowns in New Orleans two months earlier.

“So we knew how good they were,” Hasselbeck, now an ESPN analyst, recalled this week. “They were really good, and we knew we were 7-9.”

Until Carroll made them believe they weren’t.

“Seven and nine were everywhere and Pete’s motto was, ‘We are not 7-9. We are zero and zero. And guess what everyone else is? Zero and zero,'” said Hasselbeck, who will be included in the Seahawks’ Ring. of Honor when they host New Orleans on Monday night (8:15 pm ET, ESPN) as 4.5-point underdogs.

“Whether we were naive to believe it or not, we thought we were zero and zero. We were not 7-9. We were zero and zero, like everyone else. We believed it. We were in. He had us so focused” on him. Maybe we were dumb, but we loved it. We were on it. “

Eleven years after his team pulled off one of the biggest playoff upsets in NFL history, Carroll has another unlikely task in front of him. Seahawks are 2-4, 4½ games behind the division leader Arizona Cardinals and 3½ behind second place Los Angeles Rams. They have a shady defense and backup quarterback in Geno Smith for at least two more games while Russell Wilson recovers from finger surgery.

Carroll has faced his share of tough challenges as a coach in Seattle: rebuilding on the fly in 2010, avoiding the pitfalls that can follow a Super Bowl win, managing the aftermath of his devastating Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots. , moving from Legion of Boom in 2017 and 2018 and turning around a historically bad defense in 2020.

What makes this hurdle different from most of them: Carroll doesn’t have Wilson.

“It is a challenge,” he said. “I have to lead the charge, and I’m going to kick butt on that.”

‘It’s a very similar feeling’

Carroll’s unwavering optimism, even in dire situations, builds on the regular reassurances he used to receive from his mother. The phrase that Rita Carroll repeated frequently to her children was that “something good is about to happen.”

Linebacker Bobby Wagner believes something good is about to happen.

Seattle’s defensive captain is one of three players, Wilson and wide receiver Tyler Lockett are the others, remaining from the 2015 Seahawks team that started 2-4. He finished 10-6, won a wild-card offer and advanced to the divisional round after Minnesota Vikings kicker Blair Walsh missed a chip-shot field goal in sub-zero Minneapolis.

“I remember everyone on the outside said our season was over and we had no chance of being good,” Wagner recalled of that 2-4 start. “And I remember that we shut ourselves off and focused. It’s a very similar feeling. I feel like when you watch the games and see some of the things we’ve done, I feel like we’re very close and I feel like it’s not that we’re not improving.

“I have a lot of confidence in the guys that we have. I’m sure we’re just a couple of plays away, just a couple of small adjustments from being a team that I know we can be. error so we can … solve these things. “

That 2015 team had the Legion of Boom at the helm of the league’s best scoring defense. And it had Wilson, the quarterback who has led more winning series in the fourth quarter or overtime than anyone since 2012, the guy who has masked many of his team’s failures in the years after the Super Bowl, the main reason. why you can never write off the Seahawks.

This team has a defense that showed improvement last week in an overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but has mostly underperformed by allowing the most yards in the NFL in six games. He has a good backing in Smith, who fulfilled the role of game manager as he rallied Seattle from a 14-0 deficit before fumble in overtime.

It’s Smith’s job for at least two more games when Wilson will be eligible to come off injured reserve. Carroll hasn’t given a schedule for his quarterback’s return, saying that if it’s physically possible for Wilson to play Week 10 in Green Bay after the Seattle break, he will.

“I definitely feel like we understand what’s at stake,” Wagner said. “It’s important for guys like me Russell to make sure the youngsters understand that we’ve been in this position before. Just because we started 2-4 doesn’t mean it’s defined our season. The season is very long. I’m sure it will. that after these two games, the bye week, we will be sitting in a very good position “.

‘How do we fix this?’

Carroll, who turned 70 last month, is under contract through 2025 after signing an extension last season. Hasselbeck believes that’s an important distinction from the dynamic struggling teams often face.

“Usually in a situation where you’re in the dock or you’re going through one of those terrible years, everyone is preoccupied with their own jobs and it’s more about covering your own butt for your own work than on really fixing it, “he said. “I think the good thing if you’re supporting Seattle is there’s a lot of job security there. There’s no question about … that sort of thing. So the focus will be on how we fix this. Year in which everyone I was losing my mind on radio shows. “

Hasselbeck was referencing his defensive shift, when they went from setting futility records early to allowing the fewest points in the NFL in the past seven weeks.

“Pete didn’t really flinch,” Hasselbeck said. “He basically fixed it.”

Now, the problems are on both sides of the ball. The NFC West is packed. Wilson is outcast. And the stakes are heightened given the uncertainty about Wilson’s future in Seattle beyond 2021.

Carroll and the Seahawks need something good to happen quickly.

He pointed to how his players rallied in Pittsburgh as evidence of how they will handle such an unknown challenge.

“There is no choice,” he said after the Steelers’ loss. “Fortunately, we are back on Monday night. We have an extra day. But there are no options. We have to go back and have a fucking battle. This is how we do it.”